Tuesday, July 24, 2012



About six years ago, P and I used to zip off for weekends in Athens, Malta, London, Lyon.  There was a springtime trip to Zurich, Switzerland for a few days. A great chill filled the air once night would fall and we'd duck inside a cozy restaurant for some beer and sausages.

Seeing myself these days, overtired, heavy into the third trimester with my second baby, I have to squint to see remnants of the old me.  I imagine a day might come again there is some balance in my life and some of the old me creeps back into this new version.  Surely there must be room for both.

I like to peel back the layers to get to that girl on Lake Zurich who had the luxury of just being a tourist with no real agenda.  Those were the days.  That was when I first tasted muesli.  Creamy with whole milk, an added spoonful of yogurt and so many shredded and mashed fruits inside to discover.  The crunch of a walnut, the surprising sweetness of a dried date.  We both filled our bowls that weekend.  The old me is still there after all.  She's the reason why muesli is not just a breakfast dish.  


Nicole in Zurich

Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe
Jamie uses dried apricots, which I omitted, but you can add whatever type of dried fruits you like.  I couldn't resist adding flax and chia seeds for a healthy dose of Omega 3's and 6's in the morning.  Make sure you read the recipe all the way through, since muesli is best when soaked in milk overnight before serving. 

8 handfuls of organic rolled oats
2 handfuls of ground bran
1 handful of chopped dried dates
1 handful of chopped walnuts
1 handful slivered almonds
2 large spoonfuls ground flax seeds
2 large spoonfuls chia seeds

Combine all of the above in a large bowl stirring well.  Store in an airtight container.  It will keep for several months.

Additional ingredients for making and serving:
Milk (at least 2 % or partially skimmed)
Berries or other seasonal fruits

The night before you want to eat it, place the amount desired in a bowl and cover with milk.  You can make more than you want for the next day and eat it over several days.  Grate in around 1/2 an apple per person and stir immediately to keep the apple from discoloring.  Cover and place in the fridge.  

The next morning, remove the bowl from the fridge.  The muesli will have softened and thickened, so add a little more milk.  Add a banana, sliced or mashed.  You can add honey to taste, if you like.  Serve in a bowl with a dollop of yogurt (optional) and some mixed fresh berries in summer.  Pear would be delicious in the winter.

Swan in Zurich

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summery Spinach and Chicken Salad


Sitting in front of a large bowl of salad like this one, I felt very present.  The flavors are somewhat Asian inspired, but not overly so.  There is soy sauce mixed with lemon juice, sort of an unusual combination, and the taste brought me back, the way food often does, over 25 years to when my mother used to make a salad very similar to this one.

I've read a bit about mindfulness and mindful eating; concepts that seem to be edging their way into mylife.  I am drawn to the tenets of paying attention, being aware in each moment and finding balance.

The principles of mindfulness allowed me to appreciate the soft and unfamiliar texture of the iceberg lettuce, paired smartly with healthier baby spinach.  The way a few sesame seeds clung to my molars and the snow peas and red peppers snapped, each releasing their own bright flavors.

If I extend these teachings to the rest of my day, they allowed me feel myself laughing out loud as Roman danced a jig to the jovial sounds of the accordion in Bryant Park, to have the fortitude to turn around an episode when he protested to my making dinner, and then to watch closely as sleep crept gently up on him as he hugged his yellow taxi under one arm and his blue elephant under the other.  And for the next 11 weeks, each kick, bump, thump and wiggle in my swelling belly gets my immediate attention.  These are the days, the tastes, the sights, the sounds and sensations that will not be around long. 

Summery Spinach and Chicken Salad
Serves 4 (large servings)

Plan ahead as this recipe requires chilling in between steps. Also be sure to eat it immediately after you combine all the greens so that they don't wilt. I drastically reduced the amount of oil that my mother used in this salad and I didn't notice a change in flavor- there still seemed to be plenty of moisture for the salad.  If you need more, add more.  Delicious summer dinner.

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 clove garlic, scored
1 lemon (both zest and juice)
1 ten-ounce package of fresh baby spinach
1 large head of iceberg lettuce
1 organic red pepper (conventionally grown are highly sprayed.)
a few handfuls of fresh snow peas
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
coarse salt to taste

Cut the chicken into 2-inch strips and place in a bowl.  Add 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of oil and the garlic clove and the zest of half a lemon. Mix well and chill several hours.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a skillet.  Add the chicken strips a few at a time and sauté 3 - 5 minutes or until they become firm.  Don't overcook.  Discard garlic clove.

Combine cooked chicken and remaining oil, soy sauce, lemon zest and lemon juice in a large bowl and chill thoroughly.

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for several minutes.

Pick the stems off the spinach, wash and drain.  Chop or tear the spinach with your fingers, shred the iceberg lettuce. Make sure these are both chilled.  When ready to serve, toss the greens, snow peas and red pepper with the chicken mixture and dressing. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and salt and serve immediately.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

There's plenty of heat to go around this July.  Instead of dwelling too much on it, we refresh, we rest, we eat large bowls of salad. Until we can get out of the city, we think up new indoor activities, read stacks of library books, and sing.  This past week I made some baked granola bars and vowed not to use the oven again.  Summer needs a no-bake cookie.

Then I remembered my step-mom's affectionately termed "cow-plop" New Englander cookies, that are boiled, not baked.  I had written down her recipe last summer during a visit and had been waiting for the right time to make them.  I remember eating them on a hot, buggy night, typical of Massachusetts.  She was making them to put in a care package for her daughter (she's always doing things like that). The peanut butter and chocolate combination were so addictive and she generously ignored the furtiveness of my hand creeping back to grab another.

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

I took a few liberties by modifying her recipe.  I hope she doesn't mind.  She's been making them since the 70's.  My version has half the sugar but I added chocolate chips, whole peanuts and a dash of kosher salt.  I'm keeping mine in the refrigerator, which is not necessary, but they are quite nice slightly chilled.  Together with a cold glass of milk, this is my new summer-time cookie.

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

1 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup peanut butter (I recommend using just ground peanuts, no sugar added)
1/2 cup milk
3 cups quick oats (or you can pulse regular oats in the food processor)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts (slightly chopped)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and add the vanilla, cocoa powder, peanut butter and milk.  Stir briefly to melt and combine all ingredients.  Remove pan from heat and stir in the oats, kosher salt, peanuts and chocolate chips (these will melt slightly.)  Roll into small balls (a bit smaller than a golf ball) and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Cool on the counter top or refrigerate.
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